Suborbital promises


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Capitalism in space: Two stories today highlight the contrasts that presently exist within the still unborn suborbital tourist industry:

In the first, Richard Branson made another one of his bold predictions, the same kind of prediction he has been making about Virgin Galactic now for almost a decade. Again and again he claims, based on nothing, that his spaceship will be carrying people into orbit in mere months. It never happens. It won’t happen here.

In the second, Jeff Bezos announces that he hopes to fly people on his New Shepard suborbital spacecraft by 2018, but at the same time he also announces that the program is delayed.

Bezos, speaking in front of the company’s exhibit at the 33rd Space Symposium here that features the New Shepard propulsion module that flew five suborbital spaceflights in 2015 and 2016, backed away from earlier statements that called for flying people on test flights later this year. “We’re going to go through the test program, and we’ll put humans on it when we’re happy,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be 2017 at this point. It could be.”

Bezos has been very careful, from the beginning, to make no bold or specific predictions about when his spacecraft will fly manned. Here, he is once again making it clear that any previously announced schedules were very tentative, and should not be taken too seriously.

Which person would you trust with your life on a suborbital flight?

6 comments

  • LocalFluff

    If he didn’t own Washington Post, I’d believe Bezos. He certainly has the most believable space program communication strategy, given the little he says about it. But with WaPo now there’s something deeply wrong with him, unclear exactly what. He spends $1 billion a year of his private monies on Blue Origin. He could become president for less. But with $76 billion in fortune, he doesn’t need to suck up to any government.

    The suborbital idea is weird, but some weird stuff are successful in the consumer market, so we’ll see. A two minute roller coaster on top of a hydrogen/oxygen bomb. I think the important thing for space flight is that it is repeatedly launched, landed and relaunched. Maturing this very valuable kind of technology. Bezos’ orbital plans sound much better than the suborbital thingy.

  • m d mill

    LocalFluff:
    My instincts about the tourist aspect of the new space flight boom are the same as yours
    (as I have argued here before).
    I think the romance of the science and science fiction of space flight and weightlessness drives some people a little beyond hard realities and economics.
    But completely agree… launch, launch and relaunch, satellites and commercial cargoes, and ultimately reasonably priced scientific (manned and unmanned) exploration of our solar system.

  • wayne

    LocalFluff / m d mill–
    Good stuff.

    –Anyone have any thoughts on what might be an appropriate historical analogy for “tourism in Space?”
    -At what point, for example, did European’s start to view the New World, as a tourist destination, via boat travel?
    -And referencing our own westward expansion with railroads– when did “tourism” become a “thing” with railroad’s?

    Just thinking out loud. (It occurs to me, I’m ignorant as to the origin of the word “tourist.”)

    There’s always been “exploration,” and that historically has been coupled with economic-activity. Wealthy people of means have always “travelled,” for Fun & Profit, but it occurs to me as well, is “tourism” a product of the 20th century, or what?

    Just quickly referencing sub-orbital flights— personally, if I could go into space I’d want the “3-day package,” at a minimum.

  • Edward

    wayne,
    It really does depend upon what you mean by tourist as well as railroad. There were early rail trolleys pulled by horses that carried passengers. Some early steam locomotives carried passengers between towns, so if a day visit to Aunt Sue in the neighboring town counts as tourism, then that was an early use of railroads for tourists.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DeWitt_Clinton_(locomotive)

    If Pocahontas was a tourist from America to England, then that was pretty early. I would consider her to be a tourist, as she was returning home to Virginia when she died.

    I agree that the 3-day package would be sweet, but what if you could only afford the 6-minute package?

  • wayne

    Edward–
    yeah, it really does depend on the Definition.
    This whole topic does intrigue me– at what inflection point would “space” become amenable to mass-tourism?
    As for the “6 minute trip”–my thinking on that is– if you are going to build for 6 minutes of sub-orbital, why not spend the marginal additional amount to make it orbital.

    Overlook Hotel, July 4th Ball, 1921
    “Midnight the Stars and You”
    https://youtu.be/pUyFU9ZHous

  • LocalFluff

    “-At what point, for example, did European’s start to view the New World, as a tourist destination, via boat travel?”
    That never happened! Crossing the Atlantic, during the migration, was a life long investment. Not an entertainment event. Tourist boat travels are still today available along coasts of the Mediterranean and in the Caribbean, not so much in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Humans are instinctively coastal creatures. We’ll see how we’ll do in space.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *